Steve was an ant.
A very hardworking, industrious ant who kept his eyes on the prize and toed the company line. He had been a hardworking, industrious line-toer for his company for 12 years.
For the last four years, he had even been the director of a brand new product line that was supposed to be very important when it launched. Steve worked hard on developing the product, making sure it was the best it could be.
Steve the ant managed his small team of other ants, managing every aspect of the new product, making sure every ‘i’ was dotted, every ‘t’ crossed. Steve turned down other opportunities to help with new projects, never attended conferences, and never left the office. Steve frequently worked through lunch, and worked evenings and weekends, to make sure the product would be a success.
Steve the ant was sure that his hard work and efforts would be noticed, and that he would be rewarded for all the hours he put in.
One day, Steve was called into Stephanie’s office.
“We’re letting you go,” said Stephanie.
“But why?” Steve asked. “I’ve done everything that was asked of me. I dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’, I worked through lunch, and worked evenings and weekends, to make sure this new product was a success.”
“Our new vice president started last week,” said Stephanie. “He wants to go in a new direction. He doesn’t think this product will be valuable, so he cancelled it and is laying everyone in the department off.”
“But I’ve sacrificed so much. And I have a mortgage and two kids and bills to pay,” said Steve. His pleas fell on deaf ears. (Why? Because employers don’t care about your mortgage and kids and bills. But that’s a different parable.)
To find a new job, Steve the ant decided he would “leverage his network.” Surely he could tap into his vast network and find a new job in a few weeks, rather than several months like other ants he knew.
Steve fired up his laptop and logged in to his LinkedIn account.
“Your account is 60% complete” LinkedIn told him. “You have 27 connections.”
Most of Steve’s 27 connections were other ants from the company.
“Has anyone heard about any jobs in our industry?” Steve asked.
“Sorry, I barely know what’s going on outside the department, let alone the company,” one ant said.
“I got laid off just like you,” said another ant. “I’m trying to find my own job.”
“Have we met before?” asked one non-company connection.
“Just check out our website, we may have some openings there,” said another.
Steve was screwed.
Dave the grasshopper also worked in Steve’s department.
While Dave worked on Steve’s product launch, he didn’t spend all his time on it. He spent a lot of time working on other projects with other departments. He attended conferences, he wrote blog posts about his industry, and used LinkedIn after hours. He had lunch with other ants and grasshoppers in other companies around town. He even spent time at Chamber of Commerce events and local industry events.
Dave worked just as hard as Steve, but spent more time developing his own personal network and brand.
As parables go, Dave the grasshopper was also laid off the same day as Steve. Dave also had a mortgage and two kids and bills. Dave was just as scared as Steve. But Dave had something Steve didn’t.
He had a real network that he had grown and developed for the last four years.
Dave logged in to LinkedIn.
“Your account is 100% complete,” LinkedIn said. “You have 1200 connections. Twenty people have viewed your profile in the last 30 days.”
One third of his network were directly involved in his industry around the country. Many of them were local, from Chamber and local industry events. And he had met over 200 others at conferences.
“I just got laid off, does anyone know of any openings?” Dave asked his network.
“We have an opening in our department, if you want to come back to the company,” said one. (Dave didn’t. He’s no fool.)
“Our project manager just left for a new job and they haven’t started the search yet,” said another. “I might be able to put you in touch with my boss. And let’s get lunch again soon.”
“Hey, I remember you from the conference last fall and I’ve been reading your blog,” said another. “I just started my own company and would love to talk to you about a possibility.”
“I’m the hiring manager for a new position. Send me your résumé,” said another. “Let’s schedule a phone call for next week.
Within three weeks, Dave had a new job with a higher position and more money, with a company closer to his house.
The moral of the story? Start networking for your next job while you have your current one. You never know when you’re going to lose the one you’ve got, and right now is the best time to meet people who can become valuable assets and resources when you need them.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself. His new book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, which he wrote with Jason Falls, will be released in October 2011.